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The DTH war hot up in US

May 05, 2005 07:12 IST

In 1962 Telstar satellite relayed a television signal over North America, sparking off the satellite television revolution.

India too experimented first with satellite television in the mid 1970s under the SITE programme and later in 1982 with the Doordarshan national network. The exponential growth of cable TV in India in the 1990s made us a part of the global satellite television revolution.

Now the stage is set in India for the next generation of satellite TV -- Direct to Home broadcasting.

Location and accessibility to the cable line no longer matters in a DTH scenario. That's because the programmes are beamed directly to the television at home.

DTH broadcasting uses the upper portion of KU band transponders in a satellite to send hundreds of channels for downlinking on earth. Using a mini parabolic receiving dish and an integrated satellite receiver decoder, a subscriber can connect directly to the satellite platform provider.

The receivers are commonly known as set top boxes and have proprietary encoding technology built into them. The downlink, from satellite to earth, operates at frequencies between 12.2 and 12.7 gigahertz.

DTH was launched as a business in the UK in 1989 and is now a reality all over the world. In Europe the overall market share of DTH in 2004 was 21.4 per cent of all TV homes, with the figure for Germany being almost 40 per cent.

In Europe the main DTH platforms are Canal Digital, Viasat and UPC. The UK has had a number of providers over the years -- Sky, British Satellite Broadcasting, BSkyB and now Sky Digital.

In South Africa, Multichoice is the DTH platform and Canada has two legal DBS services, ExpressVu and Star Choice. Japan has Sky Perfectv and Latin America's main satellite service is Sky Television. Australia and New Zealand too have DTH with Foxtel, Optus and Sky Network Television.

A new battle is now being waged in America. This is between the two major DTH providers -- Directv and Dish Network. Currently, about 10 per cent of all households in America get their television entertainment through satellite. But with the advantages a satellite system has over cable, this number is expected to double in the coming years.

In 1994 Directv was the first entertainment service in the US to deliver all digital-quality, multi-channel TV programming to an 18-inch satellite dish as an alternative to cable. In the first year of service almost one million systems were sold. There are now over 10 million customers across America.

Its only rival, Dish Network, was the first to offer two-way, high-speed internet access via satellite through Start Band and the first satellite TV system to offer over 500 channels of digital video, audio and data throughout the US.

Launched in December 1995, it reached its first million customers at the end of 1997. Headquartered in Englewood, Colorado, Dish Network is owned by EchoStar Communications Corporation, a public company with approximately 20,000 employees.

Both companies are enticing potential subscribers with everything from free toasters to private trapeze lessons. For subscribers in the US, the decision is based on channels offered and the price.

Directv offers over 225 channels, including a number of digital video recorder programming packages and local programming in all major cities and most metropolitan areas across the US.

A subscriber pays either $40 a month for 100 plus channels, including local channels, or about $88 a month for those same channels plus 30 premier movie channels.

Dish Network offers the lowest price package of channels at $32 and all 180 plus regular channels plus 31-plus movie channels for $83 per month. Dish Network retailers even offer two free digital video recorders to each subscriber and install the system in up to four rooms of the house with no upfront fee.

In programming choices, both networks have plenty of channels, but Directv has a few extra sports channels. It also offers three to five South Asian channels, including Star India, for between $30 and $60 a month. Dish Network on the other hand offers Zee TV, Zee Cinema, Sony Entertainment TV, B4U and TV Asia for $25-50 a month.

Both networks have introduced digital video recorders, a great new technology that lets subscribers view satellite TV when and how they want to. They can pause live TV to answer the phone and skip through commercials on recorded programmes, besides recording up to 100 hours of programming and more. A subscriber can even record two programmes at the same time.

The battle to grab more subscribers in the US continues unabated. With DTH making its appearance in India, there is likely to be a rice, programming and technology war to attract DTH subscribers. As in the US, let's hope the consumer wins.

Bhuvan Lall is the president and CEO of LALL Entertainment, a company based in Los Angeles and New Delhi.
Bhuvan Lall
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